New federal ethics complaint against Sara Gideon points to illegal super PAC coordination

Sara Gideon speaks at a press availability in Scarborough. Photo courtesy Sara Gideon campaign.

WASHINGTON D.C. – Sara Gideon’s long train of ethics violations and investigations under both state and federal law continued this week, as a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington D.C. filed a new complaint laying out evidence that Gideon’s campaign illegally coordinated with Senator Chuck Schumer’s corporate-funded Super PAC.

For Gideon, the complaint not only carries the consequence of another fine or penalty for violating election laws, but also exposes that while Gideon claims to oppose corporate PAC money in politics, her campaign goes to great lengths to attract the spending and support.

At issue is recent instructions tweeted by Sara Gideon’s campaign communications director Maeve Coyle which instructed certain messaging be delivered to certain regions of Maine, which align with media markets. Public communications instructing super PACs how to advertise are illegal.

“Our filing clearly demonstrates that Sara Gideon’s campaign and Senate Majority PAC engaged in illegal coordination. As outlined in the complaint, the parties involved violated all three legal prongs of the test used by the FEC to determine coordination, therefore Senate Majority PAC’s actions appear to constitute an illegal in-kind contribution to the Gideon campaign. The Commission must act swiftly to hold the respondents accountable and deter future violations of federal law–otherwise super PACs and candidates will be able to coordinate in plain view,” said Kendra Arnold, Executive Director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, who filed the complaint.

On September 1, the communications director for Sara Gideon’s campaign, Maeve Coyle, tweeted that voters in Maine needed “to see and hear” two extremely specific political messages and in which media market they should be aired, says FACT.

FACT says that the first requested ad was to run throughout Maine telling voters that Sen. Susan Collins voted for tax breaks for prescription drug companies and the other was to be run just in Portland tying Collins to President Trump.

Not coincidentally, on the very next day, Senate Majority PAC put both ads (“Too Much” and “No Thanks”) on the air matching the content and target markets that Gideon’s communications director suggested on Twitter.

According to federal law, candidates are forbidden to coordinate with super PACs on advertising. A three pronged test is applied to determine if that sort of coordination has been conducted: (1) the communication was paid for by a third-party; (2) the communication satisfies a “content” standard; and (3) the communication satisfies one of the “conduct” standards.

According to FACT, their filing shows all three standards were plainly met.

Gideon has a long string of ethics complaints and violations, while questions about her judgement, decision-making and partisanship have dogged her through her final two-year term as Speaker.

Gideon was fined by the Maine Ethics Commission earlier this year for illegally reimbursing herself from her corporate-funded leadership for contributions made to federal candidates, effectively funneling forbidden corporate money into federal campaigns.

While her campaign and defenders were quick to shrug off the violation as a one-time mistake, Gideon also faces several FEC complaints for a variety of violations.

Gideon is also still facing an investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission for thousands of dollars in unreported expenditures in the 2018 election cycle and shortly after. In that case, Gideon spent thousands of dollars from her corporate-funded leadership PAC, including some attacking Senator Susan Collins, but did not report the spending on her finance reports.

Compounding the problems Gideon faces with the litany of ethics violations are the continued questions about her lack of action for months after she learned that Rep. Dillon Bates, a member of her partisan caucus, had been accused of sexual misconduct with underage students.

Gideon worked to kill an ethics investigation into her and Bates’ actions in the Maine House of Representatives and only called for Bates’ resignation when the story broke in the Maine magazine The Bollard.

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